Season Review


2020-21 Season Review: April

APRIL would see the Bannsiders in action seven times as the battle for European qualification heats up…

The Bannsiders would start April with a home clash against Glenavon – a side they had failed to beat on the two previous occasions they met. Coleraine survived a scare after 29 minutes when Hall got on the end of Peter Campbell’s teasing cross, but his claims that the ball had crossed the line before Deane’s save were dismissed by referee Tim Marshall. Manager Oran Kearney’s words at the interval had the desired effect as his troops displayed much more intensity in their play after the restart. It took a great stop from Hyland within two minutes to keep out Carson’s deflected drive. Then James McLaughlin looped a header over the top as Coleraine showed more attacking threat. Only the woodwork denied Coleraine a crucial opener after 64 minutes as they stepped up the pressure. Substitute Eoin Bradley’s free kick struck the post and struck Allen before being smothered by a relieved Hyland. Lady Luck certainly wasn’t shining on the Stripes when the post once again came to Glenavon’s rescue. Stevie Lowry released Stewart Nixon and his first contribution after coming off the bench was to fire in a low 74th minute drive which bounced back off the far post as the match finished scoreless.

The Stripes would be on their travels to Windsor Park next to face Linfield in front of the Sky Sports cameras. The first-half would belong to the livewire Jordan Stewart as he netted a first-half brace. On 18 minutes, Matthew Clarke and Navid Nasseri combined before Clarke found Stewart, and his quick footwork left several players grounded before lashing the ball into the roof of the net. Despite Coleraine enjoying a lot of the ball, it was the diminutive Stewart who delivered another silky solo finish to sicken the visitors right on the stroke of half time. This time he was teed up by Shayne Lavery, he nipped in ahead of Stevie O’Donnell and around Deane before coolly finishing from close range. Coleraine’s night took another turn for the worse when Deane had to go off injured with a suspected dislocated finger after tipping Cammy Palmer’s 59th minute shot over the crossbar. An entertaining game between the League’s top two teams took another twist on 62 minutes when Niall Quinn was sent off for a foul on Matthew Shevlin after an earlier yellow for a challenge on Jamie Glackin. Substitute Curtis Allen headed home a Glackin cross three minutes from time to set up a grandstand finish but those hopes vanished – despite six minutes injury time – when Aaron Canning was shown a straight red card for tripping Christy Mazinga.

Coleraine would look for a return to winning ways as they made their way to Warrenpoint Town for a tea time kick-off at Milltown. Marty Gallagher got his first start since February in place of the injured Gareth Deane and he was called into action after eight minutes to keep out Ryan Swan’s effort. Recalled Stewart Nixon posed Coleraine’s first real threat when he cut inside from the right on 13 minutes but Gabriel Sava was down quickly to push his shot around the post as the first-half failed to carve out any real chances. The visitors would take the lead with less than half an hour remaining as Keelan Dillon delivered a hammer blow with a stunning strike after 63 minutes, smashing a shot from outside the area past a helpless Gallagher. Coleraine’s response however was almost instant. Skipper O’Donnell led by example, heading home Glackin’s corner three minutes after the Bannsiders fell behind. The equaliser kicked the visitors into life and Stevie Lowry was inches away with his long range 69th minute drive. It was that man O’Donnell who pounced again to put the Bannsiders in front ten minutes from time. Jamie Glackin provided the cross, after his corner was punched out by Sava, and O’Donnell found the target with his second header of the evening as Coleraine banked a valuable three points.

The Bannsiders would then face Glentoran in a double header as the battle for the Europa Conference League qualification continued. The first of these games would take place at The Oval as Glentoran were rewarded for their bright start on six minutes. Luke McCullough’s free kick was nodded on by Robbie McDaid to Jay Donnelly who controlled the ball and lashed it past Marty Gallagher. The Glens dominated the opening 20 minutes and only the crossbar prevented McCullough from adding a second from Hrvoje Plum’s corner. Gradually Coleraine got a foothold in the contest and they drew level on 29 minutes. Jamie Glackin was the provider with a well delivered free kick and Matthew Shevlin beat the advancing Rory Brown to head home. It was Coleraine’s turn to come out all guns blazing after the restart and Glackin blasted over from Ronan Wilson’s pass. The Bannsiders took the lead on 76 minutes when Shevlin outmuscled Rhys Marshall before drilling his shot into the bottom corner. Glentoran got back on level terms after 76 minutes with one of the most bizarre own goals you are likely to see. Carson raced in to challenge Plum and he thumped the ball over the head of Gallagher from 30 yards! A point a piece after an entertaining fixture in East Belfast.

The two sides would do it all again just three days later on the Ballycastle Road. As was the case in the last fixture, it was Glentoran who started brightly. It took a goal-line clearance from Eoin Bradley after five minutes to keep the visitors at bay, after Rhys Marshall and Marcus Kane both went close following a goalmouth scramble. It was Marshall who popped up unmarked at the back post on 11 minutes to get on the end of Andrew Mitchell’s corner but he steered his header wide. After Patrick McClean made a timely block to deny Stephen Lowry, the visitors would take the lead three minutes before half time. Ciaran O’Connor was allowed to run unchallenged and when the ball broke to Robbie McDaid, he made no mistake from close range. Just like midweek at The Oval, the Bannsiders came from behind to level. Ben Doherty provided the cross on 64 minutes and Shevlin fired the ball home from close range. As the game continued to ebb and flow, McDaid almost restored Glentoran’s advantage but he shot narrowly past the post. Coleraine had a great chance to go in front 12 minutes from time when Shevlin latched onto Bradley’s flick on but he snatched at his shot and pulled it well off target. However, it was Glentoran who wasted a great chance to win the game in the final minute, but Ruaidhri Donnelly somehow headed Dale Gorman’s corner over the crossbar. The result meant Coleraine hold onto second spot and retain their two point advantage over Glentoran who have a game in hand.

A derby clash at Ballymena would come calling for the Bannsiders who knew they needed to pick up maximum points to remain at the upper echelons of the table. In a first-half that was controlled by Oran Kearney’s side, there were few clear openings in a tense affair. Matthew Shevlin brought out a fine save from Jordan Williamson after 25 minutes after being played in by Stevie Lowry. With half time approaching, it was beginning to look like the visitors would have nothing to show for their endeavours. But up stepped left back Aaron Traynor to open the scoring four minutes before the break after an exchange of passes with Lowry. The defender’s perseverance paid off as he fired home after his initial effort was blocked. Coleraine made a dream start to the second half as they doubled their lead within two minutes. Eoin Bradley held the ball up well before releasing Lowry, who calmly slotted the ball through Williamson’s legs. Ross Redman struck the crossbar on 77 minutes for the hosts and two minutes later he scored with a fine glancing header from Shay McCartan’s cross. Coleraine had to survive an anxious final few minutes but held on to claim the derby day bragging points and three valuable points.

The long awaited start of the Irish Cup would finally take place as Coleraine hosted Crusaders at The Showgrounds. There was plenty of commitment shown by both sides during a scoreless first half but little in the way of composure. Philip Lowry was first to try his luck after 11 minutes but his half volley was saved by Marty Gallagher. But with the exception of Jordan Fosythe’s 19th minute header from Paul Heatley’s corner which he should have done better with – and a Lowry header from another Heatley delivery – Gallagher wasn’t overly troubled. The same was the case for Sean O’Neill at the other end. A great block by Billy Joe Burns denied Matthew Shevlin an opening on 31 minutes. The second half followed a similar pattern until Gallagher was forced into three fine saves in quick succession to deny Adam Lecky, Heatley and Burns. But with just five minutes remaining and a penalty shoot out on the cards, Heatley delivered the decisive blow. Ben Kennedy flicked on O’Neill’s clearance and Heatley lobbed Gallagher from 25 yards. A disappointment for Coleraine who were knocked out of the Irish Cup at the first hurdle.